Every year at the Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale, I buy some unfamiliar (to me) herbs and other edibles. Last year, one was shiso, which is used mainly in Japanese cooking and also has medicinal uses. One source I found said that it’s often served with raw fish (i.e. sushi) because it can help prevent food poisoning.
I can’t even remember if I actually ate any of the leaves, but I really enjoyed the plant. It grew without any care in my hot, dry parking strip garden, had lovely variegated purple leaves all summer long, and then the seed pods were interesting and stuck around for most of the winter.
So, since it’s an annual (and a member of the mint family), I decided to buy another plant this year at the sale. It took me a while to get it into the ground, but I put it in my daughter’s veggie patch since I thought she might enjoy having a purple plant (her new favorite color, thank god the pink phase finally seems to be ending!) that is also fine to pick a leaf off and nibble on. Here it is, watered in but dirt not covering it up yet. Hot sunny day, terrible transplanting weather of course.
As it was going into the ground, I had a horrible thought. Wait, those leaves look so familiar – could those million little seedlings I just pulled up thinking they were an invasive mint-ish weed that my dad warned me not to let get established in my garden, and that I was so proud of myself for seeing and yanking early, be shiso volunteers? I pulled them out of the weed bucket to take a look:
Oh, um, yes, that would be they. Now I know! If you have as shiso plant, at least in my climate (Zone 8), you never need to buy another plant – you will have seeds and seedlings forever! Enough to spread around the garden if you wish, or give away or pull up if not. Lesson learned.
Other names for shiso are Perilla, Kemangi. and Beefsteak Leaf. Click here for a yummy-sounding recipe for edamame (soy beans) with shiso and Meyer lemon vinaigrette.